Saturday, April 30, 2011

They Shoot Lawnmowers, Don't They?

Today was the day -- my narrow window of opportunity to mow between the raindrops. No, I hadn't yet mowed this year.  Quit looking at me that way.  We had snow on the ground a month ago, for Pete's sake! And I think we've had exactly three days of sunshine in the interim, none of which fell on the weekend. Unless it was when I was in Austin.  And that doesn't count -- a girl has to have a vacation every now and then!

Anyway, excuses aside, my yard was beginning to scream "lazy hoosier" louder than I could bear.  So, knowing that we were set for some dry weather this morning, and that Riley's softball practice didn't start until 12:30, I resolved to tackle the yard at 10:00 a.m. sharp.  (I hate people who mow too early.)  This, despite the fact that I've been nursing either a wicked head cold or a bad-ass allergy episode for the past day-and-a-half.  The thought of adding dust and grass clippings to the mix had me positively giddy.

Knowing that the lawnmower hadn't been put through the paces for five plus months, I hit the shed shortly after 9:00, figuring it might take a bit of tweaking to get the old nag up and running. After prying open the rusty Master lock (note to self - add "new lock" to Lowe's List), and yanking open the rapidly-becoming-too-warped-to-yank shed doors, I eased the mower out of its hovel and unscrewed the gas cap to peer into the tank.  Yep, just as I suspected: dry as a bone.  Thankfully, I had my trusty gallon jug of gas-scientifically-mixed-with-just-the-right-amount-of-oil (and if you believe that, you don't know me at all) handy, and filled her up. 

Next, I prodded her on up to the front yard (the back yard would have to wait for some other sunny weekend day, a month or so from now).  Recalling that my mower has a tendency to sludge up sparkplugs, I removed last year's replacement and gave it a good spit shine, before tightening it back up. 

It wasn't 10:00 yet, but I figured I'd at least give it a quick start, to make sure all was good.  Pumped the primer and gave the cord a good yank, and...sputter.  Okay.  That was to be expected.  First start of the season is always a bit rough.  Multiple tries later, the nothing but sputtering had me muttering.  Or maybe just plain old swearing. 

Another check of the sparkplug gave me no insight and brought me no closer to an operational mower. Knowing the ease and inexpense of replacing the little boogers, I decided to go that route.  So, off to Lawnmower Land I went in search of my $4 magic pill. 

While there, I went the extra mile and casually inquired if one needs an appointment to bring a mower in for a tune up.  Mine hasn't had one since I bought it.  Four years ago.  And I abuse the hell out of it.  My yard is about a third of an acre of mish-mash grass, interrupted with vast patches of mud or dust, heavily pockmarked, and obstacle-laden.  The back quarter of it is wilder than The Outback. Frankly, I figure it's only a matter of time 'til a dingo ambles out of it.  Still, I regularly (okay, semi-regularly) subject Old Bessie to its hazards.  And most of the time, she obliges. 

I'm simply not all that great with "regular maintenance" type responsibilities.  The only reason my car gets its oil changed anywhere approaching "on schedule" is the hottie in the Service Department at the dealership.  He may be serious cougar bait, but he's a right fine incentive to hand over the keys and the dough on a quarterly basis.  If only he did yardwork...

I'm told there's no need for an appointment to get the mower checked out.  One of these days, it would probably behoove me to do so.  But, today, I was on a mission.  Had to get that front yard tamed, and time was a-wasting.  So, back to the house I went, new sparkplug in hand.  Snapped that puppy in place and gave it another go.

Nothing but a sputter.  I was stumped.  And what's a girl to do when she's stumped with a mechanical/mower sort of question?  Why, call her big brother, of course.  I wasn't holding my breath.  He'd be the first to tell you this isn't exactly his area of expertise.  Sadly, he had no great insight to share. 

I was verging on a meltdown now. It was closing in on 10:30, and I'd gotten nowhere.  My head was stuffy, my throat hurt, my yard was begging for a citation, and I had a dud mower taunting me from the driveway.  Time for the panicked call to Mom.  Who handed me off to Dad.  In a fit of desperation, I floated the idea of borrowing THEIR mower.  We agreed this was doable, so I shoved my heap of junk out of the way, and sped up the road to their house.

Dad had the mower out on the patio and had just gassed and oiled it up when I arrived.  We dragged it around front and then set about folding the handle down so we could lift it into the back of my car.  It isn't supposed to be that difficult a thing to do.  But we had quite a time of it.  Finally, we got it collapsed enough to heave it into the vehicle.  It was at that point, I realized, I'd need Dad's help to heave it back out of the vehicle at my house.  He graciously agreed to follow me, and back we went.

Once there, we lugged the mower back out.  And began wrestling with the handle to get it back into its proper place.  But something seemed wrong with the pull-cord.  It wasn't sliding back into the right place.  This might be an appropriate point to insert a "How many lawyers does it take to..." joke.  Apparently, two wasn't enough.  Well, eventually, one was.  (I love my Dad.  He's a million wonderful things.  Mechanically-inclined isn't one of them.)  I finally got it to settle into its proper place, and, after making sure the mower started, Dad headed back home. 

Thirty seconds into the mowing process, I noticed the oil cap hopping up and down like a jackrabbit on speed, and spitting out splotches of oil onto the mower's lovely red housing.  Whoops!  I laughed, leaned over and tightened it up, and proceeded to mow...about an eighth of the front lawn.  That's as far as I got before Dad's mower conked out.

Numerous attempts to restart it were met with evil bursts of mower laughter.  The tank was full, so it wasn't that.  I cleared out all the sodden grass I could find lurking within the mower's gut.  Primed it a few times.  Nothing. 

I was on the edge.  About ready to snap and sink into a sobbing heap in the yard.  The only saving grace is that the grass was still so high, it likely would have hidden such a disgraceful display from neighbors or passersby.  What actually saved me is that my nose was so full of snot at that point, I couldn't stand it anymore and had to take a Kleenex break. 

By the time I came back outside, I was ticked.  So ticked, I decided to set upon my mower and beat it into submission.  It must have sensed that I meant business, because lo and behold, this time, when I pulled the cord, it suddenly issued a more encouraging sputter.  A cough, in fact.  And then a few belches of smokey oil-laden exhaust.  Followed by full-on engine engagement. 

I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry.  So I mowed.  At breakneck pace, given that it was now fast approaching noon.  I wonder if running behind a mower counts as a workout?  If so, I got a good one in today.  And only hacked up half a lung full of grass dust in the process. 

It probably won't surprise the reader to know that at various points during my misadventures in mowing this morning, I gave serious consideration to just waving the white flag and hiring a lawn service.  I'm stubborn, though.  Pigheaded, even.  And can't quite get past the notion that, since I am capable of mowing the lawn myself (at least in theory), it's stupid to pay someone else to do it. 

Plus - you know that old saying, "If you want something done right, do it yourself."  Only, in my case, it's more like, "If you want endless blog-fodder, do it yourself."

Oh -- a post-script.  After softball practice, I attempted to get Dad's mower started again, to no avail.  He came back over and we packed it up and trundled it back up to my folks'.  I guiltily volunteered to help him cart it into the repair shop if he needed to have it looked at.  My Mom called a few minutes after I got back home.  "By the way, the mower started right up for your Dad." 

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